Translation and Interpreting in 150+ Languages
Siri, Come Here, I Want to See You
December 7, 2011 - By: - In: Machine Translation - 22 comments

Siri, the app that talks back, is the big hit on the new iPhone 4s.

In my last post, we looked under the covers at the unnaturally intimate relationships we furtively pursue with our cell phones. I’m talking about more than just an extra “s” in front of “texting.” Our little hand-held fetishes have become the sacred mirrors from which all is revealed, as our communication with our smart phones evolves/devolves to a conversation with a device rather than the person at the end of the line.

And now that apps like Siri are learning to say just the right thing, its just going to get better and better, or worse and worse. Youtube is awash with iPhone geeks eager to share their interactions with their oh-so-clever cell phones. Talk about stupid pet tricks. Thousands have put Siri through a Turing torture test to seperate the men from the machines, or at least to  tests a machine’s ability to mimic human behavior. Yawn. Been there, done that. Even a casual viewer of Jeopardy knows that  IBMs artificial intelligence, Watson, can already whup humans at facts and figures. How hard can being human be? We are only a data set away from a machine that can represent as more human than a human.

Everything will be fine, so long as you’ve got Siri in your pocket. Who needs friends when an app has got your back? But what about that pal of yours at the other end of the line?  How do you know it’s not his Siri? How does it matter, really? Maybe that’s who you should be talking to anyway.

Rick Bookstaber figures its going to happen any day now. “One reason…, is that we are meeting the computers half way. The more we become twittering, texting beings, the easier it is for a computer to mimic us, because we are stripped of much of our human context and behave more like computers.

“The second reason is now readily apparent with the unfurling of the Apple iPhone4S and Siri, the digital assistant.  With the iPhone users accessing Siri to find restaurants, make appointments, and ask trivia-level questions (and with more areas of interaction added down the road),  Apple’s servers are going to amass the queries of millions of people many times every day.  And as Google has shown with Google Translate, if a computer has enough raw material, it can pretty much figure this sort of thing out.”

So when we can’t tell the human from the ghost in the machine, it will be just like online poker, where poker ‘bots are lurking to clean your clock. Or skim just enough to avoid detection by anti-poker bots. And that’s just the start. Artificial intelligence follows the money, and online poker is chump change compared to the revenue these apps will someday produce for their masters.

The voices in the machines will help you so much that you will be helpless without them. And soon enough, the machine pretending to be a human will be a better at being human than you. They might even be better at being you than you, but just the way you like it, because they’ll learn that too, as natural language algorithms pour over your natural language as you speak. What will become of us?

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